09 March 2008

A business dinner at Solera, Minneapolis

Why did it take me so long to try Solera? It’s been around now for several years. It gets mostly good reviews. Several co-workers have recommended it. Now, having eaten there recently, I’ve discovered that I love it and regret that it took so long to try it.

At the end of February, during the Land O'Lakes annual meeting, a group of us made plans to entertain visiting leaders from the National Milk producers Federation. The person in charge of picking the restaurant suggested Solera. I thought it was a great idea – close to the convention center where the annual meeting was being held and with a menu that would offer enough variety to suit everyone’s tastes.

We had eight people in our group; not too big, but they gave us a private room anyway. The décor in the restaurant is really fun. Our room evoked a cavern with red-draped walls and ceilings and ornate cloth hanging lanterns. The Spanish theme is reflected throughout the restaurant with saturated reds and blues.

The Spanish décor is appropriate since Solera is primarily known as a tapas restaurant. It has some entrées on the menu. Notably, it’s supposed to have a very good paella. But most of the menu is dedicated to the tapas. Personally, I like tapas. I like the opportunity to experience several different flavors. There’s sort of an ideal size group for tapas. Two people is probably too few unless you really intend to splurge. For my wife and I, we would probably order only three or maybe four tapas one dish at a time for a meal for the both of us. That’s fine, but if you have four people, you probably end up ordering and trying six to eight dishes, they get brought out two or three at a time, and that’s more in the spirit of tapas dining.

Arguably, our group of eight might have been too big. On the one hand, not everyone liked every plate that was brought out. But there were a few plates that everyone wanted to try, and there wasn’t quite enough to go around. On a few, we ordered a second round, but then we ended up having too much to eat. (Tapas can be expensive if you don’t quit ordering after you’ve had your fill.)

Solera offers a ‘tasting menu’ which is a pretty good option for a large group like we had. They take care of selecting the dishes that will be served and the pace that the food is brought out. I can’t remember all of the dishes that we tried, but I had a few favorites:

Smoked black cod with olives and smoked paprika vinaigrette – this was one of the first dishes brought out. I loved it. The smoky flavors of the cod and the paprika went well together and the salty olives provided a nice complementary flavor.

Piquillo peppers stuffed with herbed goat’s milk cheese – these were brilliantly red peppers filled with a wonderful goat cheese that had been flavored with mixed herbs. I could have eaten the whole plate myself.

Grilled Spanish and Portuguese sausages with white bean flan – this was another dish that I really liked, but there were others around the table who didn’t, so I was able to have more of them. The sausages were very flavorful and not overly spicy. They mixed very well with the white beans (which to me were more like a puree rather than a flan.)

Braised lamb with almond-date couscous and harissa – the lamb was cooked to perfection and was fork-tender. The couscous was slightly sweet with the flavor of dates. The harissa added a nice, spicy kick to the whole dish.

There were many more plates served over the course of an hour. I liked most of them, but these were the ones that I would definitely order again on a return visit.

For me, there definitely will be a return visit. Solera is a restaurant that I truly enjoyed for it’s wonderful food and exotic ambiance.

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